How Hamilton lost out to Vettel while Perez influenced key decisions
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Strategy Report
Posted By: James Allen  |  20 Mar 2012   |  1:45 pm GMT  |  167 comments

The Australian Grand Prix got the new season off to a great start and showed that the race strategy side is going to be as vital as ever to a good outcome.

In this first Strategy Report of the year we will look at how Jenson Button was able to dominate the race by taking priority in strategy decision making at McLaren, while Sebastian Vettel and Red Bull used good strategy and a piece of opportunism with the safety car to steal second place away from Lewis Hamilton.

We will also see how, for the second consecutive year, Sauber’s Sergio Perez was a trailblazer, covering the race with just one stop and his performance on the medium tyre in the first stint changed the thinking of many of the top teams about how to approach the race.

Analysis of Key Strategy Decisions: Albert Park, Melbourne, March 18 2012

As the first race of the season the Australian Grand Prix is always something of a test case for how race strategies have been affected by new generation of tyres and rule changes, such as the one banning the exhaust blown diffuser.

This weekend we saw clearly that the 2012 Pirellis are more suitable race tyres for F1 than last year’s; they allow the drivers to push a bit more and they wear differently from the 2011 versions, which would wear quickly along the shoulder, whereas the 2012 models wear evenly across the tyre, which is positive and makes them slightly more predictable. But performance still drops sharply if you stay on them too long.

The expectation going into the race was that the leading drivers would do a two stop race, starting on used soft tyres, taking a second set of used softs at the first stop around lap 19 and then pitting for medium tyres around lap 39.


McLaren vs Red Bull: How Button got the upper hand and Vettel beat Hamilton

McLaren controlled the race from the front row of the grid and the victory was only threatened 22 laps before the end, when the safety car neutralized the field and removed Button’s lead, with Vettel right behind him. Lewis Hamilton didn’t have the pace to stay with Button and some bad luck with strategy cost him second place. Both drivers had to be careful on fuel saving as well, according to the team boss Martin Whitmarsh, due to starting with an aggressively low fuel load.

The start was the decisive moment. Hamilton had qualified on pole, but Button had gained the strategic advantage over his team mate by winning the start, which meant that he had first call on when to pit.

He made his first stop on lap 16 and moved onto the medium tyre. This meant Hamilton had to come in a lap later. Hamilton’s tyres were already going off significantly and he lost 3.4 seconds on lap 16 and on his in-lap to the pits on lap 17. He lost a further 1.4 seconds on his out lap. Worse still, he rejoined behind Raikkonen and Perez, who was on the medium tyre and one-stopping. By the time he passed Perez he was 11 seconds behind Button. More significantly, Vettel had gained seven seconds on him through this period. The world champion also stopped at the ideal moment – lap 16 – before the tyre performance dropped off and was now just two seconds behind Hamilton. This time lost for Hamilton would prove decisive at the second stops. Vettel had opted for the soft tyre, while Hamilton and Button were on medium.

With an 11 second gap between Button and Hamilton at the end of the second stint and the tyres going off on both cars, the McLaren team decided to pit both of their cars at the same time, on lap 36. Their in laps were identical, but Hamilton’s out lap was 3 seconds slower than Button’s, meaning he was vulnerable to Vettel.

People have questioned the wisdom of pitting the two cars on the same lap and it’s something that McLaren have been working on, as it’s hard to achieve and requires a very well drilled pit crew, to have the second set of tyres ready to go. Being able to double stop has significant strategic advantages in multi-stop races, where an extra lap on fading tyres can cost a lot of time. But in a two stop race, it was an interesting decision to try it.

The Red Bull team had seen McLaren stopping, but left Vettel out as he was lapping faster than the McLarens at that point.

So he was on target to jump Hamilton at the second stops anyway, but it was guaranteed when the safety car was deployed as Petrov’s car had broken down on the pit straight.

Vettel dived into the pits from the lead and rejoined in between the McLarens, ahead of Hamilton. From 6th on the grid after a disappointing qualifying session, Vettel had made the most out of the opportunity presented to him by McLaren and Hamilton.

Perez blazes a trail – again!

The total time needed for a pit stop at Albert Park is 25 seconds, which is one of the longest of the year. This is because the pit lane is long and the speed limit is just 60km/h, rather than the usual 100km/h, for safety reasons. This encourages drivers to do less stops rather than more. Even though Raikkonen, for example, had three sets of new soft tyres at his disposal, he didn’t go for a three stop sprint strategy because of the time that would be lost in the pits.

So from outside the top ten there were always going to be a few cars that would start on the medium tyre and try to get to lap 28 or 29, then switch to the soft. The front runners would never have planned to do this as simulations showed it to be 20 seconds slower than a 2 stop if you can run in clear air.

Last year Sergio Perez did a one stop race and finished seventh (although he was later disqualified for rear wing irregularities). It was assumed that several drivers would try this. In the event only three started on the medium tyre: Perez, Vergne and Petrov. Vergne did a two stopper, but Perez managed to go from 22nd on the grid to finish 8th. More importantly his pace around the time of the leaders’ first pit stops showed that the medium tyre as not only more durable than the soft, but was fast too.

Going into the race the strategists knew that on one single qualifying lap the soft tyre had been 0.8secs faster than the medium. But they believed that in the race that gap would be smaller, probably around 0.5 seconds. If you had a new set of options – as Raikkonen did for example – that was a faster choice than a new set of mediums. But the gap between the two tyres turned out to be so close that if you only had used softs, as all the front runners had, then a new set of mediums was better for most.

With the leaders forced to stop as early as lap 16, Perez was lapping comfortably in the 1m 33s which convinced several strategists that the medium was the best tyre to be on that day. Webber went to it first, followed by Button, Hamilton and Alonso. Vettel, Raikkonen and Kobayashi went for soft. The Japanese driver then underlined Sauber’s gentle action on the tyres by extending his middle stint on softs to 23 laps; longer than Alonso managed on new mediums in the Ferrari !

Perez’ strategy saw him rise to second place by lap 20 before the tyre started to really go off – he dropped five places and ten seconds in three laps as the cars that had pitted for new tyres overtook him. But he made his only stop on lap 24 and drove to the flag on a set of new options. He was racing Maldonado, Rosberg, Kobayashi and Raikkonen and finished 8th, having started at the back of the grid. The Sauber’s ability to run long stints on the tyres will bring them plenty of points this year.

The UBS Race Strategy Report is written by James Allen with input and data from strategists from several teams.


RACE HISTORY GRAPH

The zero line represents the winner’s average lap speed. This graph shows the lap times of all the competitors relative to that lap time.

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1

So James, on the evidence of this race (n=1) is there any validation of the myth that JB takes care of his tires better than LH?

Would you be kind enough to provide evidence to refute or validate on a race-race basis?

Thanks.

2
Grayzee (Australia)

Hi James,

Once again a great analysis. For sometime time now, and Iv’e posted on this before, I have been trying to figure out this “fuel saving” thing. If they start with less fuel than they need to save weight, and are then forced to save it to comlete the race, wouldn’t that negate the time they save by putting less fuel in? So, i have the following questions:

How much weight saving are we talking about?

Is it anything to do fuel tank capacity?

Is there much difference in fuel consumption between engines?

Do the teams “bank” on there being a safety car?

Hope you can help.

3

They don’t have to save weight if there is effectively a SC,because in that situation they are forced on the contrary to desperatly consume fuel.

And the penalty with the weight is not linear as i’ve been told, this is a great saver especially for the tires that gives a greater comfort zone at the end

4

Good questions. I’ll find out

5

I can’t honestly recall where Hamilton rejoined after his second pitstop (if he was behind someone who was out of sync or on a different strategy, therefore holding him up?), but I wondered if a knock on effect of McLaren’s stacked pit stop means the second car’s (in this case Hamilton) tyres cool too much due to the increased time out of the blankets? I understand why McLaren stacked the cars, I think at the time it made sense and it will probably happen more as the season goes on, but what sort of margin would be saved or lost by staying out and lapping on worn tyres relative to time lost due to cold er new tyres (if indeed they were colder!!) and the risk of the lead cars pit stop going wrong impacting on the second car?

6

Hamilton was around 10 secs behind Button. His tyres were hitting the cliff edge before Button.

In this scenario they should have pitted Hamilton first because his tyres were gone and losing time and was no threat to Button. By keeping Hamilton out he lost the the ideal track position to slot in ahead of Kimi and Perez and was under threat from Vettel.

Now this is where I think McLaren shot themselves in the foot and cost THEMSELVES a 1-2 finish by a poor strategy error.

This is where McLaren are too rigid, had they went with the flow of the race a little more they could have adjusted better to the situation and a 1-2 would have been guaranteed.

7

Easy to say that but last year showes that every team favours their leading driver and will always pit him first on the ideal lap regardless to protect the best position they hold or attack the car ahead.

8

It’s a stupid strategy though isn’t it, because its not maximising the potential.

No, last year there was a race where Hamilton was leading and they pitted Button first to secure his position as he was under threat from behind.

I can’t remember the exact race, someone will know. But what I haven’t seen is the same done for Hamilton since Whitmarsh signed Button.

I thought this weekend would be a first when watching the live timing.

9

It’s fascinating to see a ferrari powered car in the form of sauber on the option tyres being able to outlast ferrari on the primes. And this comparison was between KOB and ALO and we all know ALO handled that car superbly. He flattered ferrari by dragging that car up to 5th. We’ve all heard BUT after a poor race talking about balance not being right. The fact that ALO can outdrive that car and other strong teams (given the tyre comparison he still beat the saubers!) shows the level of his talents. I am a massive BUT fan but I am under no illusions, he isn’t the best driver in the pack, I really think ALO takes that title. On a side note, if HAM continues this season with the attitude of last then he might find very few teams jumping to sign him up. A team boss wants someone who’s head is in the game, not a driver who seems to have left his head at Snoop Dog’s party!!!!

10

Excuse me if this has already been said, no time to read all, but this so called aggressive fuel strategy from Mclaren could have led to more fuel in the lewis car James?

Because as they are still hot blowing in a way, there is an optimum between mass penalty and aéro benefit, maybe the hamilton team made another choice?

Their style is very different to so is it a possiblity? That failed of course but who knows exactly before it happens…

11

Angry bird raikkonen is really hungry this year !

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7q5E4j8VWv0&feature=youtu.be

12

Hilarious cartoon !!! 🙂

Must admit that radio message is the all time greatest in F1 ever period 🙂

13

The thing that stands out more than anything from the graph is just how dog-slow the Marussia’s are compared with the rest… Pic’s pace was slower than the average race speed right from the start! In other words, had Pic chosen to ignore the safety car when it came out and carried on at top speed he STILL would have come last!

By contrast the Caterhams are only a smidgeon off Massa, which admittedly isn’t actually saying much…!

14

Great race from Button. He shows that he’s a master of looking after his tyres. He’s also got a very cool and wise head.

Poor Frank Williams, even he must of been convinced that he was on for points. I fell off my chair when Maldonado crashed. At that point as team boss I’d have been yelling to bring the car home, protect the team and race again another day! But that’s racing…

Roll on the next 19 races, competition looks fierce. Seems to get better each year in the same way as the cars evolve each season.

15

I just read the Spanish sports newspaper “AS” which wrote that Hamilton was told on Sunday via Radio that he should not attempt to overtake Button, and stay on position 2 until the end of the race. Is’t true? If it is, a disgraceful affair…

16

I think one needs to admit and extend credit when due. Button was unbeatable in Australia, a fact acknowledged by Vettel, which as rather magnanimous, I felt. Hamilton was never in a remote orbit of Button.

A lot has been said about Hamilton, sixth year in F1 and one lucky WDC… so much for being a phenom.

17
beastfromtheeast

mo,

I’m no Hamilton fan, that’s for sure, but your leaving childish anti-Hamilton comments all over the place doesn’t do much to add to the respectability of JA’s great site. You aren’t the only one, I know, but you’ve ruined this particular thread with a load of infantile twaddle. Say it once, by all means, but for the sake of other readers (and your own reputation), no need to say the same thing 20 times. Give it a rest, please.

18
Grayzee (Australia)

He was never close enough to Button for the team to have needed that instruction……….

19

That would be out of character for McLaren who let their drivers race. Hamilton didn’t stay in position 2 anyway, he fell to 3rd

20

Indeed, far from pushing for an overtake on Button, Lewis was more concerned about holding onto his own position.

Remember, not everything you hear in news media is true. There could be a bit of sh*t-stirring going on.

21

James, I think you touch on, but slightly miss, what was happening in terms of tyre choice, and Perez’s race strategy.

1. Mediums were, quite rightly, the more durable tyre and probably why Perez chose to run these first. But the track grip and abrasiveness is not constant over the entire race distance. As the track rubbers in, it makes his later use of the softs even more useful. You get more speed, and even less wear due to the grip becoming available.

2. Perez was overtaken by numerous cars before his first stop, not because he was slow – well, not really slow – but because he was obviously and deliberately not compromising his race line to keep position. He knew that by maximising his own speed, and not defending position, it would all reap benefits later. After all, he knew he was not fighting Vettel, Webber, et al within the top 5. I think you have not given Sergio enough credit for his racecraft at that point.

22

That second point of yours is particularly interesting, and highlights how well Perez played the game of driving “out-of-sync” against the other drivers.

And now that you’ve pointed that out, I’m starting to think that the only reason Perez’ tyres were in such bad shape in the end was because he had to start defending against Rosberg, who was then “in-sync” with him.

23

Perez, such a smooth driver and its seems that’s his trademark in Oz.

Something strange about the new Pirelli, the performance changes when they use the same compound. It should be faster as fuel load drops.

Kamui expressed during quali when similar fresh soft compound used, behaved differently. It was very noticeable when Alonso’s second stint on mediums dropped so much.

Looks like the new exhaust is causing this problem which is quite interesting.

24
Adrian Newey Jnr

James – It seems that for a number of years Sauber have used this strategy. Do you think this will change with the depature of their key designer?

Force India are also a fan of one-stop strategies. Do you think with the underperformance of the new car, that they will switch to this for future GPs? Or do you think this is only an issue at venues where there are longer pit times?

25

One BIG thing that I saw nobody commenting…

Is it possible that without the safety car, McLaren would LOSE the race due to needing to safe fuel, while Vettel would be able to push?

26

No, I think Button had a big enough margin

27

3 seconds is not a big enough margin

28
pear-shaped pete

Most probably right. Well JB did have a decent gap by lap 12 or so when I first heard his pit ask him to start saving fuel;- that seems early to me. And that was a long, long safety car period.

pear-shaped pete

29

On what data is this belief based?

Given Rosberg’s problems on the last lap using merc engine package might not the McClarens have had a similar issue?

30

Great to see Perez make the one stop work again and get his reward, amazing drive! Will the pitstop calculator be adjusted to reflect the longevity of the options he did 34 laps on?

31

Lewis was just beaten by a quicker driver , button is faster hope it stays that way, who will replace Lewis next year if it remains like this ?

32

There is something fearsome about Kimi and Mclaren combination. I hope we see that again.

33

Why someone should replace him? I didn’t noticed Lewis underperforming.

35

If SC cost 3s to Hamilton why he just didn’t overtake it like he did once in Valencia. He would have got just another reprimand

36

I guess you didn’t get the memo:

Button is faster than Hamilton, can you confirm that you understood that message? 😉

38

Very interesting comments regarding stops ect. Although JB,s oppertunism is good I still think that LH was incredibly unlucky and was punished for his wheelspin at the start.I prey LH can out quallify them all this weekend and get a good start!!

39

I’m a huge Hamilton fan so I’m finding it hard to watch him be so inconsistent. I think his down beat appearance after the race is deeper than Button beating him at the first corner and in the race. Button has been gloating quite regularly about how he feels at home in the team, how he’s so comfortable in the team and driving better than ever. This is a very subtle psychological tactic by Button surely. I reckon this is having a greater effect on Hamilton than Buttons on track performances. Hamilon had a much more visibly combative relationship with Alonso and was well able for his pace when they drove together so that tells me it’s way deeper than just Buttons performances. I wonder if he’ll change teams as the rumours suggest. Maybe he needs a fresh start at Mercedes perhaps.

40

In 2007 Mclaren was the fastest and the most reliable car. There were accusations that year that Hamilton was been given Alonso’s set ups. That year the WDC was destined for one of Mclaren drivers and yet neighter of them got it for Ron Dennis who was making Hamilton race ‘Alonso’ and not ‘Kimi’.

My question is where is the domination and Hamilton era everyone spoke of during his debut season. Him winning the WDC in 2008 was purely down to Ferrari backing the wrong driver, for till France 2008 Kimi blew everyone away.

Simple and straight 🙂

41
pear-shaped pete

So did the safety car actually save the McLarens from beingf very badly compromised- running out of fuel? Maybe Vettel wasn’t the only one to gain from safety car?

pear-shaped pete

42

Now that a good one thinking about it. But the truth is thats the usual mclaren mind games that the opposition dont care about because you cant manage a fuel problem for the entire race. Just ask Nico and mercedes

43

Don’t forget that Alonso lost out to Webber also during the safety car James.. But then again the Ferrari was pathetic once the safety car came in. Any information on why Alonso was so slow after the SC James… Unable to get heat in tires again?

It seems like another repeat… Sounds like Ferrari should invest in Sauber personnel so they can finally get a grip on tires….and Sauber can get some necessary funds in return??

44

James, would it be possible to publish a higher definition image of the graph? It is hard to see some details.

Thanks!

45

James,

Great article as always!

1) In which position (+/- gap) Vettel would have been after the second stop without the safety car?

2) Is it causing any disadvantage at a double pitstop (like McLaren did) that the second set of tyre stays longer without the warmers resulting in a cooler temperature? Could this be one the reasons of Hamilton’s slower out lap compared to Button?

46
Tornillo Amarillo

Nice James, interesting.

Strategies will play again a huge rol in Malasya. I can see there something like this as a result at this stage in a quick circuit:

Hamilton

Button

Vettel

Webber

Rosberg\Grosjean\Kimi

Alonso

Schumi

47
val from montreal

wow Schumacher last huh ?

was’nt he running in 3rd ,controling Vettel before his DNF ?

48

Oh how unwise to underestimate The Kaiser 🙂

49

His pace was good but the Mercedes has tyre degredation issues:

http://www.autosport.com/news/report.php/id/98154

50

Odd …. Schuey was consistantly FASTER than Rosberg, Alonso, Webber, Raikkonen, Grosjean and Vettel in Australia and i expect that will continue.

51

ham

but

vet

rai

web

alo

ros

msc

gro

mas

52

If Lewis can look after the tyres well enough. Buttons pace and racecraft could have got into Lewis’s head.

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